February 04, 2004

Liberals and Coalition a problem for Nats in Brisbane, Vote 1 a problem in bush

There are two parallel elections running this time. The southeast corner dictates the winner in any contest, just through weight of population. Brisbane and the southeast give every indication of still being on holiday waiting for breakfast to be brought to them in bed. Everything is calm and relaxed. In rural and regional Queensland where the election will not be won or lost passions are running high with angry public meetings basically demanding that Peter Beattie be brought in as the main course.

To some extent this is a story of two economies. There is a strong correlation between jobs and business being lost and governments changing. There has been a drought, so beef is not as profitable as it could be, even though prices are up, because many do not have any stock. Ditto for grain. In the coastal areas the sugar and dairy industries are hurting because the prices for both their commodities are down. They are both facing restructuring. Restructuring also affects commercial fishermen as they wonder how many of them will still be in the industry as the government closes fisheries to preserve stocks. On top of this a dollar which is up close to 50% on its lows is making exports more expensive and imports cheaper, squeezing producers in two markets simultaneously.

Last week when we talked to rural and regional voters there was lots of discontent, lots of issues and lots of emotion. This week when we talked to Brisbane voters, partly in an effort to get a handle on just how badly the Liberal Party was traveling in what should be its heartland, it was “pretty much steady as she goes. No one seems to argue about why we need a change”.

It is impossible to beat a government where no-one is upset about anything. In this last week voters have really turned off Peter Beattie – “I just don't trust Pete the Cheshire Cat anymore” – but they haven’t turned on to Lawrence Springborg. He is still regarded as young and inexperienced and voters are starting to identify him as a little manipulative. The famous topless ironing shot brought this rejoinder from a young woman: “yuk! put it back on. Like his wife doesn't do that normally for him, that's insulting to women to think we would be fooled by the SNAG image”. Caught between country boy and metrosexual he’s become just a little bit tricky dick.

Bad as it is for Springborg he is held back by his deputy, Bob Quinn. One respondent wanted to know whether he had ever been an undertaker. There is a feeling that he got lumped with the job because he was the last man standing (with apologies to Joan Sheldon). One respondent wanted to know whether it wouldn’t have been “maybe better to do a Campbell Newman type of thing…” meaning that they should bring in an outsider. Good news for Newman in that his hard name ID is obviously up (especially as this was a Labor voter speaking), but not for the Liberal Party.

Respondents thought that Brisbane had different needs from the Bush, that Beattie had neglected it since the election was called, but that even if the Liberals understood Brisbane’s needs they would get over-ruled by the National Party in any coalition. At least one respondent thought that the National Party would be better off without the Libs. Last year Quinn was running on a number of issues that offered points of differentiation from the National Party.

These are the responses I got to them. When I suggested that the Liberals opposed tree clearing: “that's news to me. but it is only important what the Nationals think as they are in the majority”; “since when…?”; “interesting - I did not know that”. The Libs are the only party to support daylight saving, but it doesn’t excite voters: “i think it is a dead issue”; “I would be in favour of that. But I don't know how it would be for those poor souls up North”.

Another Brisbane issue is the electricity blackouts. Madonna King suggested in this morning’s Courier Mail (no link available sorry) that the Liberal Party ought to be running hard on the issue. Our group last night suggests not. They were seen as an “Act of God” by one respondent. Another who believed it was the government’s fault thought that the Coalition had been just as bad and that “they would only dig a hole on their own plundering of seqeb” if they raised it. There was a sense that it would be opportunism because they hadn’t been running on the issue all along.

This underlines the major problem for the Coalition. They can’t win on issues because they don’t have the basic credibility to start with. It’s a combination of the youth and inexperience of the leader and the deadweight of the Liberals.

Another feature of this election is that the protest vote is no longer a potent option for the major parties. Any mention of the possibility of losing or winning is met with derision. In my post yesterday I suggested that the Coalition might need to run the “save us from ourselves” line, but when I even started to test it last night by putting the proposition that Beattie might gain seats I was howled down and told it was just trickery.

In fact, if the polls and what focus groups are saying are correct, it might well be close to the mark. Certainly in Brisbane with a low unemployment rate, rising house prices and incomes there is no mood for change. Outside Brisbane there is a mood to punish, but there is no sign that it is actually translating into votes for the Coalition, in which case Beattie’s Vote 1 strategy (a strategy foolishly copied by the Coalition) will see him retain most seats as the anger is dissipated between competing anti-Beattie candidates and he collects a diminished first-past-the-post first place.

Posted by Graham at February 4, 2004 06:15 PM
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